Ian Douglas PhD '67

From Oxford to ANU – with lifelong ties to the Asia Pacific.
8 June 2018

Apply for what you want, but with the expectation that they will only say NO! Then you will be ready to apply again...and again, and maybe they will say yes!

As an undergraduate at Oxford in the 1960s, Ian Douglas became enthusiastic about studying geomorphology in the humid tropics for a PhD.

"My geomorphology tutor suggested that one of the places to achieve my goal might be ANU. I was lucky enough to get a University Research Scholarship, which enabled me to have three field sessions in tropical far north Queensland."

Ian fondly recalls his time at ANU as one which provided a strong sense of community and some of the happiest days of his life. He is also grateful for the fieldwork and laboratory experiences he received, which have guided him throughout his career.

"I was taken into the field around Canberra by my supervisor, the late Joe Jennings. I learnt a lot about laboratory work because I was allowed to do chemical analyses in the Geophysics laboratories. Joe Jennings was influential as a supervisor, providing detailed advice on all aspects of my work. This inspired me to became a PhD thesis supervisor and my own students have told me that they have been thanked for the good supervision that they received by people."

There were times though when his fieldwork experience proved a little too intense:

"Shortly after arriving at ANU a fellow PhD student and I got stuck for 24 hours on a muddy track on the Cooleman Plain and a fellow student was sent to find us!"

Although sustaining a research program in humid tropical rainforest geomorphology while based in the UK has at times proved challenging, Ian has maintained his contacts in the Asia Pacific.

"The opportunities at ANU enabled me to establish long-term contacts in Malaysia and, with the support of the UK Royal Society, to establish a hydrology and geomorphology program at the Danum Valley Field Centre, Sabah, starting in 1986. I am proud to have supervised several Sabahans who now play key roles in continuing this research."

Ian is enthusiastic about recent graduates pursuing their ambitions.

"Apply for what you want, but with the expectation that they will only say NO! Then you will be ready to apply again...and again, and maybe they will say yes!"

He is currently completing a book about his research experience in Sabah, in the hope that this will inspire others.

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